Posted on October 15, 2002
A Federal Election Reform Bill.... Finally
The United States may be the world's remaining superpower and high-tech leader, but we still can't count the votes right. Analysts estimate that as many as six million more Americans would have cast valid votes in the 2000 presidential race with modern and efficient procedures for voting and voter registration. Just recently, Florida received well-deserved ridicule after yet another "gang that couldn't shoot straight" fiasco in several counties in its primary election. Indeed, state after state has had problems with polls not opening on time, machines breaking down, voter registration cards getting lost and underpaid pollworkers not carrying out their duties. In Michigan's hotly-contested gubernatorial primary, to cite one generally overlooked example, more than 10% of ballots were invalidated due to voter error in the wake of yet another faulty ballot design.
It may have taken longer than expected, but Congress today finally passed legislation to modernize elections. President Bush is expected to sign the bill into law. The legislation provides nearly $4 billion to states and counties for better voting machines and election administration and establishes a new national electoral commission designed to be a partner with county and state officials on ensuring the quality and integrity of elections. While the commission has a far weaker mandate than similar commissions in most nations and will focus primarily on changes designed to help that half of the American electorate which already votes rather than the growing number who rarely participate, its creation is a positive step. It will consider at least some areas designed to boost voter turnout such as making Election Day a holiday.
Now the battle for modern and fair election administration turns to the states, which must develop plans in order to receive federal money. For more on the bill and concerns of civil rights groups about provisions that could provide obstacles to voting, please see the websites of electionline.org and the Constitution Project.
Showing good timing, PBS will air a program on Thursday night (10 pm in most parts of the nation), October 17 on election reform. Saturday Night Live cast member Darrell Hammond is featured in "Who Counts? Election Reform in America." The program suggests that we should explore changes to allow a multi-party system in order to boost participation.
Monopoly Politics 2002 -- Reign of the No-Choice Election
Make no mistake -- improving election administration is only a part of what we must do to make our elections worthy of such a proud democracy. Indeed, our election mechanics could have become so rusty and inefficient only in a climate where elections don't mean what they should: where few races are close and where most people don't care very deeply about who wins. We believe we must reform our winner-take-all election system because it fundamentally undermines voter choice and fair representation. We promote full representation voting methods to elect our legislatures and instant runoff voting to elect "single winner" offices such as president. (See our home pages on these issues linked from www.fairvote.org)
Last month, we were pleased that C-SPAN provided live coverage of the release of our report "Monopoly Politics 2002 : How No-Choice Elections Rule in a Competitive House." Every congressional season, we engage in the rather provocative exercise of projecting the results and likely victory margins in three in four U.S. House races.
Not only that, but we confidently make these predictions without using a single fact relating to campaign spending inequities, the identity of challengers or any characteristic of the incumbent that might suggest the quality of their representation such as voting records and constituent service record. All we need to know are the results from the two most recent federal elections in the district and the incumbent's party and seniority. Applied to U.S. House elections in 1996-2000 elections, our model projected 930 winners. Only one projected winner actually lost, and we were right in 97% of our victory margin projections.
For 2002, our model projects 332 winners out of 435 races, including 195 candidates winning by landslide margins of at least 20 percent, and an additional 100 candidates winning by comfortable margins of at least 10 percent. Of the remaining 103 districts, most in fact will not be competitive either.
This year's lack of real choice for most voters has troubling ramifications for the rest of the decade. Even though often very anti-democratic in how it manipulates voters and protects certain incumbents, redistricting at least historically results in more competitive elections. But just like the static elections in 1998 and 2000, fewer than one in ten races are expected to be won by less than 10% this year, and once again more than 98% of incumbents are likely to defeat non-incumbent challengers. This means that without significant shifts in Americans' preferences between the two major parties, we likely will see even less competitive races as the decade progresses. The lack of competitiveness is often even more pronounced in state legislative elections.
Without the hope of competitive choices, voters have little chance to hold representatives accountable and seek new representation. While we think of ours as a two-party system, the frame of reference of most voters is actually that of a one-party system in any given legislative election.
You can read our full report, download the spreadsheets we used to make our predictions and watch the C-SPAN telecast of our news conference at www.fairvote.org/2002. And stay tuned -- we'll be able to make our predictions with the same degree of reliability for November 2004 within just a few days of next month's election. We also soon will make projections in most states in the U.S. Presidential race in 2004.Website Highlights Website Highlights
It's been a busy period since our last update. Below are a few highlights among the many items newly posted at fairvote.org in "what's new" and "national and state media."
- Instant Runoff Voting: Hear Sen. John McCain's message in favor of instant runoff voting taped for Alaska voters. Read: Robert's Rules of Order on why IRV is better than plurality elections; a resolution in favor of IRV adopted by the Vermont AFL-CIO; an article about Vermont Governor and presidential candidate Howard Dean's support for IRV; and commentaries in favor of IRV from a former publisher of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the head of Vermont's League of Women Voters, Rocky Mountain News editors and the Center for Public Justice .
- Full Representation: Read about: advances for full representation (also called proportional representation) in Canada, New Zealand and the United Kingdom; the story of how Vassar became the latest college to adopt full representation for student elections; Tom Brazaitis' Cleveland Plain Dealer column about full representation and Steven Hill's "Fixing Elections"; and several new commentaries from CVD staff and supporters. Find out how to get Doug Amy's new edition of "Real Choices, New Voices" and learn about how Ireland's choice voting system of full representation works.